Thoughts on “Art of the Start”

Given my previous post on blogging, I may have given the impression that “The Art of the Start” by Guy Kawasaki is the best thing since sliced bread.

Unfortunately – it’s not. It is good – and it adds a reasonable amount of value, but it’s not “all that”.

I skim-read the book over coffee in the bookshop when I first saw it. And unfortunately for Guy, I have say that I got the most value out of the book in that initial skim reading.

Perhaps it’s because I haven’t any use for information on: how to deal with potential venture capitalists; the differences in venture-capital meeting dress-style between the east and west coast; and how most financial projections in business plans are completely useless.

Or perhaps it’s because in he and I have a similar way of thinking about these sorts of things, so there isn’t that much that seems new. Your mileage may vary.

One of the main problems I have with the book is that it’s marketed as “for anyone starting anything.” However, I suspect there was a conversation like this between two of the publishers just before releasing the book:

  1. Publisher 1 – “So we’re publishing a book for people starting software businesses that need venture capital. Now tell me, how many people do that each year? And how many do we have to sell to make a profit? Who the hell signed this deal?”
  2. Publisher 2 – “Well… the introduction is fairly general – you could even use it as a way of structuring a blog, for example. He also does use some other examples besides software and tech business stuff in parts of the book – there’s one sentence on page 47, for example. How about we subtitle it ‘Your guide to starting anything?'”
  3. Publisher 1 – “Isn’t that a bit bland? It needs a ‘little something’, I think”
  4. Publisher 2 – “How about ‘The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything’? Now everyone can buy our book.”
  5. Publisher 1 – “Publisher 2, you’re a bloody genius.”

That said – I don’t regret buying the book. The first few chapters especially have some important and useful ideas. But it has some major assumptions about the business you’re going to build, where it’s going to be located, and how you are going to build it. (It always goes something along these lines: think of the idea; start building it while you try find venture capital; list it on the stock market or sell it to a competitor.)

I personally think of starting a business in a different way – but I’ll have more about that in another post.

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs

I’ve recently started reading The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs – one of the textbooks for MIT’s electrical engineering and computer science degrees.

One thing that’s immediately interesting to me is how challenging the first year introductory text is. The second thing is how well the book is thought out. I know how difficult that is, having written a reasonable amount of a book myself for the Squid User’s Guide.

The third thing I’ve noticed is how years of coding predominantly in “the {} languages” (Perl, and occasional bits of C, Java, etc) make it difficult for my brain to parse scheme/lisp syntax like this:

(define (abs x)
(cond ((> x 0) x)
((= x 0) 0)
((< x 0) (- x))))

My brain also encounters similar pain parsing ruby (though it does use {braces}):

5.times { print "Odelay!" }

and smalltalk:

a := [:x | x + 1]

If you've ever learned another spoken language (and I'm not referring to chatting with a programmer-friend in Perl with statements like "oops - s/oskar/fred/g in that last statement"), you'll probably remember the first time that you started "thinking in the new language".

Right now, I'm not "thinking in ruby" or "thinking in smalltalk" - I go through a mental process that's very similar to reading a new language:

  1. Change each word to it's English equivalent (In the case of a programming language, convert the tokens and keywords to some other language)
  2. Rearrange the words so that they make sense in English - if the direct translation is "couch sat on by man", I'd rearrange to "the man sat on the couch". For more complicated statements, I'd have to try out multiple rearrangements, until I find something that makes sense in the sentence's context.

The process I have to follow with new programming languages is pretty similar to the process of converting from one spoken language to another.

With time, no doubt, I'll be "thinking in" these programming languages. But the only way to do that isn't through reading the language - it's by writing the language.

Luckily, in this process I don't have to upset people with my poor pronunciation and grammar.

The Art of the Start – and starting to blog

If you’re interested in Software, or Entrepreneurship, you should probably be reading Guy Kawasaki’s blog. In his book,
The Art of the Start, he talks about key things he’s found which work when starting a business, or as he terms it, “Anyone Starting Anything”.

Here’s the overall list:

  1. Make Meaning
  2. Make Mantra – a short description that clearly defines why and how
  3. Get Going
  4. Define your business model
  5. Weave a M.A.T (Milestones, Assumptions, and Tasks)

My meaning: The internet is, in my opinion, the ultimate community. I’ve always attempted to “give something back” through the internet. Contributing to an internet proxy called Squid, and writing documentation for it, is one example. Working and supporting Linux is another. I hope to create meaning through my blog by “giving something back” to you.

Another thing to note – my interests are fairly eclectic – I’m not going to be blogging about “just software”, or “just entrepreneurship”, or any specific item. Of course, my focus may narrow in time – but it may also broaden.

Mantra:Shared Insight. Note that I’m not saying “Sharing Insight”. That assumes “insight” will be “given from Oskar to everyone else”. I hope to get insight from others.

Get Going: Start doing something – don’t write up a 300 page document describing what and when and why and who – but get going. I considered writing my own pages from raw html (which is how I normally do this sort of thing when designing sites for customers), or writing my own publishing engine. But wordpress is a quicker and easier tool, and it works right now for this particular use. It gets me going.

Define a business model: Thankfully, I can afford to fund my own website. So I don’t need to do a financial analysis for my blog. But if I’m to give back anything useful through this site, I’ll need to pay attention to things like google pageranks, which are pretty much the commerce of usefulness on the internet. This is still in-progress, of course – the key thing up until now has been the “get going” above.

Determine Milestones, Assumptions, and Tasks: You might think that doing this is unimportant in a personal website. I don’t agree – I think personal milestones and goals are as important for an individual as a company. And tracking assumptions and tasks are just as important. I’m sure I’ll cover more on this in future posts. However, for the moment, this item is still also in the initial phases, and is currently taking third place, behind “Get Going” and “Define a business model”.

print “hello world\n”; # My first post

Many years ago friends of mine, Alan and Gillian, decided to move to the United Kingdom.

During those days, I was working at Internet Solutions, and was regularly working through the day, night, and weekends. The Internet was young (at least for South Africans), and we were building a revolution.

We all knew that staying in contact once they left was not going to be my strong point.

In the conversation, I said something along the lines of “Why don’t I periodically send out an email about how I’m doing to everyone I know? It’ll keep you updated as to how I am. Sure, it won’t be personalised, but at least we’ll be in contact. And with my work schedule I am pretty sure my family wants to know what I’m doing too. I could put them on the list too!”

Alan was…. let’s say… “not in favour of the idea”. I seem to remember threats of physical violence if I ever degraded our friendship with mass broadcasts of how I was and what I was doing.

Blogs aren’t very different from what I was describing. So I must admit I enter the world of blogging with a vague sense of trepidation! 🙂

So hello, and welcome to my first blog entry. In my next entry, I’m planning on covering “why” – why I’m blogging, what I hope you’ll get out of it, and what I’ll get out of it. As I’m still discovering who “you” are, I’d love your feedback – drop me comments or notes.

Oh – I’m glad to say that I still count Alan and Gillian among my friends. Even if I am still horribly out of contact with them.